This past weekend it was Mother’s Day here in North America – the time to celebrate all mothers and their countless contributions. The time for Sunday brunches, family outings, and potted orchids. To me, it’s also the time of the year to look back and reflect on my own work as a mother. Am I happy and satisfied with the results so far and what could I do better moving forward? This may very well be influenced by many years of work in the field of Quality Management – bringing the concept of Continual Improvement into non-work related aspects of our life. But as commonly accepted management wisdom tells us: to improve any process you have to start by measuring it. So what are the true measures of our performance when it comes to parenting? Is it the wellbeing of our children? Is it their accomplishments? Or maybe, the compassion they are capable of showing to others?
The way I see it, the main goal of parenting is to raise well-adjusted, happy and healthy individuals, who confidently go after their dreams and care about others around them as well. As much as we try our best as parents and role models, I often wonder how much say we really have in the kind of a person our child chooses to become. A good friend of mine, a mother of two, now grown children once told me that we shouldn’t take too much credit when our children turn out great and should not subject ourselves to too much beating when they do something wrong. After all, in addition to (or sometimes, even despite) what we teach them to do or not to do, every child is his own person and will be living his life by making his own decisions and choices around every corner. Nevertheless, as their parents and guardians, we still want to do the highest quality job in order to earn the peace of mind and a sense of accomplishment from the job done well.
“Boys will be Boys”
I feel responsible for the kind of person I am sending into the society. Being responsible means to me providing my child with the right tools and skills she needs in order to find her place in the sun and to build a successful life among the other humans. Along with other skills, our children need to learn how to be likable. Why is it so important to be likable you may ask. The best answer I can give is – it’s simply because we care about our children too much to allow them to “become the object of a crowd’s contempt”. These are not my words, but the words of Jordan Peterson, Canadian clinical psychologist and psychology professor. In his, 2018 book “12 Rules for Life: an Antidote to Chaos”, one rule that strikes a chord with me is Rule # 5: Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.
Often parents don’t want to hear anyone question their children’s likeability. It’s easier to hide behind the old adages such as “Boys will be Boys” or “Girls just want to have fun”. By basing our childrearing principles on these statements we are either condoning to the less-than-desirable behavior of our children or covertly expressing how tired we are of going down the unpopular path of being a disciplinarian in the family. As Moms and Dads, we love our children unconditionally, just the way they are, but the real question is – do we also like the ways they are? Here are a few points to consider:
Your freedom ends where another’s begins
I am all in for our children having opportunities for taking independent actions and learning the responsibility that comes with it. But where to draw the line between saying “no” to our children too often vs allowing them to act upon every impulse without an attempt to correct their behavior? As valuable and cherished our children’s freedom is, my belief is we have to teach them that their freedom comes with some boundaries. And those boundaries lie where another person’s freedom begins. Most likely whatever we tell our children today to correct their behavior, the society will let them know tomorrow anyway. And while doing so, the society represented by the future employers, university professors, business partners, roommates, or in extreme cases even the law enforcement officers, will not be as gentle and forgiving as we, the loving parents are. That’s why it’s worth taking the risk of communicating the hard truth now, while there is still time before the children of today would have to learn the lessons of tomorrow the hard way.
Parents or Friends
One of the perils of modern day parenting brought up by Peterson is that often enough modern parents are “paralyzed by the fear that they will no longer be liked or even loved by their children if they chastise them for any reason.” When it comes to parenting, our generation seems to covet more than anything, our children’s friendship. And in the course of that chase, we jeopardize something very important, and to some even old-fashioned – respect.
A child will have many friends, but only two parents (at most), – he points out. And to be a parent is more, not less than to be a friend. Friends’ authority to correct behavior is pretty limited. That’s why sometimes, as parents, we have to bite the momentary bullet of not being our child’s most favorite person on earth, if that’s what it takes to teach them to interact with the world around them in meaningful and productive ways.
Some of our contemporaries can argue why children should be subjected to the arbitrary dictates of a parent. Peterson references a term for this type of prejudice spewed by the politically correct thinking called “adultism” (similar to sexism or racism). A loving and caring parent or guardian, guiding a child’s behavior is not even close to forcing their child into mindless compliance. I would say we shouldn’t be swayed by the fear of accusations of “adultism” if we know in our heart that we have our child’s best interests in mind and are teaching him or her to graciously live by the rules of peaceful and effective human coexistence. According to his studies, children that are rejected by their peers cannot flourish and develop their full potentials – instead they turn into antisocial teenagers and then into depressed adults.
So, if we want to give our children the best opportunities in life, I believe we have to prepare for the inevitable rough patches ahead. But it all starts with being honest with ourselves and asking the toughest parenting question of all: is there anything I dislike about my children and what am I willing to do about it?